How much does EU citizenship cost? The Maltese citizenship-for-sale affair: A breakthrough for sincere cooperation in citizenship of the union?

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Series Details No. 64, April 2014
Publication Date April 2014
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How much does European citizenship cost in the EU? This was the question that has raised so much controversy over the Maltese citizenship-for-sale programme. The outright selling of Maltese nationality to rich foreigners led to unprecedented responses by the European Parliament and European Commission. This paper examines the affair and its relevance for current and future configurations of citizenship of the EU. It studies the extent to which member states are still free to lay down the grounds for the acquisition and loss of nationality without any EU supervision and accountability. It provides a comparative overview of member state schemes and the exact price for buying citizenship and a residency permit in the EU. It is argued that the EU’s intervention on the Maltese citizenship-for-sale affair constitutes a legal precedent for assessing the lawfulness of passport-for-sale or golden migration programmes in other EU member states. The affair has also revealed the increasing relevance of a set of European and international legal principles limiting member states’ discretion over citizenship matters and providing a supranational constellation of accountability venues scrutinising the impact of their decisions over citizenship of the Union. The Maltese citizenship-for-sale affair has placed at the forefront the EU general principle of sincere cooperation in nationality matters. Member states’ actions in the citizenship domain cannot negatively affect in substance the concept and freedoms of European citizenship.

That notwithstanding, the European institutions’ insistence on the need for Maltese nationality law to require a ‘genuine link’ in the form of an effective residence criteria for any rich applicants to benefit from the fast-track naturalisation poses a fundamental dilemma from the angle of Union citizenship: what is this genuine link really about? And what is precisely ‘habitual’, ‘effective’ or ‘functional’ residence? It is argued that by supporting the ‘real connections’ as the most relevant standard, the European institutions may be paradoxically fuelling nationalistic misuses by member states of the ‘genuine link’ as a way to justify restrictive integration policies on the acquisition of nationality.

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